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How to downsize — before you downsize

  • Article by: Katy Read
  • Star Tribune
  • April 22, 2014 - 2:08 PM

Your youngest is in college and still comes home on breaks. Your unemployed oldest shows no signs of vacating your basement.

– somewhere smaller, more economical, easier to maintain – then get busy now. Don’t wait to downsize until you actually, well, downsize.

With time on your side, you can make the process more systematic, less exhausting, maybe even a little less painful.

“Downsizing is a massive undertaking,” said Nikki Havens, owner of Seriously Organized in Bloomington (612-227-4079, www.seriouslyorganized.com).

Unlike other moves, relocating to a smaller place requires more than just packing and unpacking. You’ll also have to drastically pare your possessions, letting go of items acquired over your lifetime and possibly other people’s lifetimes.

“You’re going through things that belonged to your children, your parent’s stuff, your aunt’s stuff, your heirlooms,” Havens said. “It’s really hard. I’m not just talking about the physical side of doing this, I’m talking about the emotional toll.”

– you won’t miss that old snowblower – but it will take some time, some thought and probably some hauling stuff around.

“You can’t put a four-bedroom house in a one-bedroom condo,” said Jodi Laliberte of Sort, Toss, Pack in Shoreview (651-717-4325, www.sorttosspack.com — see profile on page 18).

Here are tips from local organizers for what you can do to get ready long before the moving van pulls up out front. Even before you move, purging possessions will make your house more pleasant to occupy. (And if you wind up not moving after all, think of it as a favor you did for your future survivors.)

Start with the least-used spaces. Laliberte tackles the home’s periphery first: shed, garage, attic, basement. “These areas tend to accumulate items that become out of sight, out of mind,” she said, which means “it’s typically easier to let go of their contents: old tools, broken sleds, outgrown bikes.”

Next, hit the lesser-used rooms: kids’ old bedrooms, off-the-beaten-track closets. Give, consign or donate furniture that’s not being used, then move on to smaller clutter, Laliberte advised. “You don’t need five crockpots, 14 vases, mismatched sheets, outdated medications, half-burned candles.”

Ask yourself how you want to live now. “The answers can eliminate bringing unnecessary items,” said Diane Bjorkman of Gentle Transitions in Edina (952-944-1028 or 651-224-0335, www. gentletransitions.net). If years ago you started collecting fabric scraps thinking that someday you’d get into quilting, maybe it’s time to either pull out the sewing kit and get to it … or acknowledge that you’re not really a quilter after all, and let the supplies go.

Divide tasks into manageable chunks. Writing “Clean out entire basement” on your Saturday To Do list is a quick way to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Take one room, or part of a room, at a time, Bjorkman advised. Or set a specific amount of time to work on a project and get as far as you can, suggested Stephanie Rasley of Duchess of Order in Edina (612-275-1595, www.duchessoforder.com).

Try working backward. If you happen to know the approximate size of your next home, use those measurements to figure out what will fit from your current house. Otherwise, decide what you need to live comfortably and get rid of everything else. Havens asks clients how many shirts they need, how many dress pants, how many pairs of jeans and so on. “A lot of my clients could easily have 100 shirts,” she said. “But if you pick 30, that’s almost a year of different outfits.”

Try to practice “meaning-matched dispossession.” That means passing along meaningful objects to people who you know will value them, which many people find more emotionally satisfying than dropping stuff in an anonymous bin, Rasley said. With time to research, you can “seek out those donation resources where it’s going to be a perfect fit.” That might mean giving treasured pieces to family members or donating items to schools, churches, nursing homes or other places that could use them.

– old sports trophies, baby clothes, kids’ science fair projects – on prints or pixels, not in big plastic bins.

Speaking of prints, if you have multiple boxes, consider transferring at least some to digital. If you don’t have time to do it yourself, you can hire a service like the online Scan Café (www.scancafe.com) or the local Astound Video and Transfer (four Twin Cities locations; www.astoundvideo.com).

Stop shopping. Once you start thinking of every new purchase as something you’ll have to pack, move and find a space for, accumulating new things may become less fun.

Katy Read • 612-673-4583

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